US hot air and the Paris accord
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US hot air and the Paris accord

Demonstrators march on Pennsylvania Avenue protesting against climate policies and President Donald Trump, in Washington on Friday. (AP Photo)
Demonstrators march on Pennsylvania Avenue protesting against climate policies and President Donald Trump, in Washington on Friday. (AP Photo)

Does it matter that the United States has formally begun withdrawing from the Paris climate agreement? Given that it is the world's second biggest carbon dioxide emitter after China, some say that yes, it does matter, because it will now be free to pollute the planet even more.

But many observers say it's no big deal since many US companies are moving forward on their promises to emit less carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. Green is good business, as everyone knows. Many US states also have admirably tough environmental rules.

US President Donald Trump has insisted since the day he took office in 2017 that the Paris accord "disadvantages the United States to the exclusive benefit of other countries" while leaving American workers and taxpayers "to absorb the cost in terms of lost jobs, lower wages, shuttered factories and vastly diminished economic production".

His view was echoed by Senator John Barrasso of Wyoming, who wrote an opinion piece for USA Today last Wednesday saying that Mr Trump is "keeping his word and getting America out of a bad deal." The "poorly negotiated" accord imposed "unfair, unworkable and unrealistic targets on the United States for reducing carbon emissions", he wrote.

I glanced at the online reader poll on the piece, noting that 66% strongly agree" with him. I clicked "strongly disagree".

First of all, investment in new technology and renewables is creating jobs, not destroying them. According to the 2019 Clean Jobs America analysis, the 3.26 million clean energy jobs in the country last year vastly outnumbered the 1.17 million jobs related to fossil fuels.

Senator Barrasso wrote if the US met all of its Paris commitments, it would cost the American economy US$3 trillion and 6.5 million industrial sector jobs by 2040. The study he cited, by National Economic Research Associates, says the restrictions on industry that would be needed in order to reduce net emissions would destroy jobs in the iron and steel and refining sectors.

However, the report failed to mention the millions of jobs being created by renewables, digital transformation, and the rise of the services sector.

According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), one of the fastest growing jobs over the next decade will be solar panel installers. The need for healthcare workers will also rise sharply due to the ageing population.

With or without the Paris accord, the retail and wholesale trade, utilities, federal government and manufacturing sectors are projected to lose jobs anyway due to new technology.

Aside from the bogus theory linking job losses to green regulation, I do not see any other country complaining about the "unfair, unworkable and unrealistic targets". The US is now the only United Nations member that will not participate in the Paris pact.

"We don't need to cripple our economy to protect our environment," Mr Barrasso wrote. But what about crippling the only home that we have?

According to a new study, sea levels will continue to rise for centuries to come, even if climate goals are met and planet-warming emissions are eliminated. This is really bad news for cities predicted to be under water by 2100 -- or as soon as 2050 -- such as Bangkok, Dhaka and Jakarta.

I really want to see what supporters of Mr Trump and Mr Barrasso will say when Houston, Virginia Beach, New Orleans and Miami are under water as well.

Mr Barrasso can tell his constituents that "with abundant low-cost coal, China and India would put our manufacturers at a huge competitive disadvantage". But China has so far invested far more in renewables than any other country in the world.

Chinese President Xi Jinping and French President Emmanuel Macron declared last week that the Paris pact was "irreversible", showing a united front against Washington's shortsightedness. Meanwhile, hundreds of local governments, businesses and organisations in the US have also joined the We Are Still In movement, pledging to cut emissions and move to renewable energy.

If some Americans want to sink with their cities, then I say let them. With smog returning to Bangkok and the capital sinking, people in Thailand should think about how we will survive this inevitable future.

The current Thai government is trying to change our practices in terms of reducing the use of plastics and increasing the use of public transport, and we are going in the right direction. Let's hope we are not "too late", as 11,000 scientists pointed out last week.

Erich Parpart

Senior Reporter - Asia Focus

Senior Reporter - Asia Focus

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